Friday, September 01, 2006

Thoughts on the Trinity

I got a letter a while ago asking me to give a clearer presentation of the triune nature of God because my paraphrase of Anselm's hypothesis was a bit obscure. Well, I'm not sure that is something I can do any better, but the letter got me thinking about whether there is anything more I can say about the topic. And, come to think of it, there are a few things I'd like to add.

First, I'd like to take care of a very silly idea. I think there are some people who believe that the idea of the Trinity was conjured up out of whole cloth by the church for some nefarious reason. This is pure nonsense. I mean, what possible purpose would be served by that? Could it be to make the idea of God more explicable to people, thereby making the church more appealing to people?

Ha! Anybody who thinks the doctrine of the Trinity makes things easier to understand obviously has no clue what it is. I mean, come on! The doctrine is that God is one essence, but three persons, each of whom is fully God. That's supposed to be easy to understand? I don't think so!

No, Christians do not hold this view because it makes God easier to explain, for the very simple reason that it makes God harder to explain. The church believes this for the same reason scientists hold their views - the evidence supports it. The scientist's source of evidence is the environment; the Christian's is the Bible.

But perhaps it was just some goofy idea that crept in somehow and eventually just kind of became set, like concrete, as a doctrine.

That's really hard to accept. Both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churchs accepted (and accept) the doctrine, and when the Protestant Church broke away from the Roman church it threw out parts of Roman Catholic doctrine that it believed didn't reflect the Bible, but it held on to the difficult doctrine of the Trinity.

Why? Well, it certainly wasn't because the uncompromising Luther and Calvin and Zwingli had suddenly decided not to upset the Roman Catholic Church. No, they accepted the Trinity because they saw it in the Bible.

Okay, on to my main point.

At the edges of human perception things get very weird.

On a small scale, subatomic particles act in ways that - at least to me - are inexplicable, and on the grand scale the universe has attributes that are equally inexplicable. For example, if the universe is - in a sense - an expanding ball, what is on the outside of that ball? My mind screams that it's gotta be open space, but if I'm understanding the explanations, there's not even that. Very weird.

Then what is God like, who is in many ways beyond the edges of our perception?

I can only imagine that in many ways he is utterly beyond our comprehension. So if the environment we are a part of is so difficult for us to understand, why in the world should we imagine that the fullness of God should be easily understood by a fifth grade math student - or a PhD for that matter?

Further, the concept of the Trinity revolves around numbers (one and three), but the thing to remember is that God created numbers and he is not limited by the numbers he made. For example, if someone were to look at the Mona Lisa painting and try to draw conclusions about its creator, Michelangelo, that person might draw some reasonable inferences, but he would be stretching waaaay too far if he concluded that Michelangelo was flat, or that he always wore an enigmatic smile. God is no more limited by his creation than Michelangelo was limited by the attributes of the Mona Lisa.

So because God is so far beyond our understanding and beyond all the laws that govern our universe, the only way to know much about him is to take him at his word, so if you accept that the Bible is God's word to people, that means believing what the Bible says about his nature even if it is as mysterious to you as the curvature of 3D space is to me.

To wrap this up, I'd like to imagine someone asking me how God can be one essence and yet be three distinct persons. I think I would respond with some questions of my own:

Do you believe God is just?


Do you believe God is loving?


Do you believe God is creative?

Of course!

Alright. Are justice, love and creativity just different names for the same thing?

Well... no. They may be related, but I wouldn't say they are the same.

Okay. What percentage of God is just?

Well, all of him, of course! One hundred percent.

How about loving and creative? What percentage of God is loving and what percentage of God is creative?

All of God is loving and all of God is creative!

Okay, but how can justice, love and creativity (since they are not just different names for the same thing) each make up 100 percent of God? That comes to 300 percent, not 100 percent.

Uhh, I think you're just being silly.

Perhaps I am, but you can see that your view is not really much different from the Christian view of the Trinity. One essence; three attributes, each of which is God in His entirety.

Okay, I don't pretend that this imagined conversation explains the Trinity, but I do think it shows that the philosophical difficulty presented by the Trinity is not a problem unique to Christians. My point with this whole article is simply to say that God is so far beyond what we are capable of imagining that it makes the best sense - if we are Christians and accept the Bible as authoritative - to simply look at the evidence in the Bible and ask ourselves what it teaches about God, and then take God at his word.

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